Date – June 1980
Studio – Sound Castle Recording Studios, Los Angeles
Producer – Don van Vliet
Engineer – Glen Kolotkin, Mitchell Gibson
- Don Van Vliet – vocals, chinese gongs, harmonica, sax, bass clarinet
- Jeff Moris Tepper – guitar
- Eric Drew Feldman – bass, synthsiser, mellotron, piano
- Robert Arthur Williams – drums
- Bruce Fowler – trombone
- John French – guitar, marimba, bass, drums
- Gary Lucas – guitar, french horn
- Hot Head
- Ashtray Heart
- A Carrot is as Close as a Rabbit Gets To A Diamond
- Run Paint Run Run
- Sue Egypt
- Dirty Blue Gene
- Best Batch Yet
- Flavor Bud Living
- Sheriff of Hong Kong
- Making Love to a Vampire with a Monkey on my Knee
Album overview from Graham Johnston
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band sound extremely vexed about something on much of this album and are at their most abrasive and bitter. The sprightliness of the previous album has gone, replaced with a need to berate those who “used me like an ashtray heart”.
The lightest moment comes with Dirty Blue Gene which rollocks along with a sponge on the end of the spring in its step, although still castigating the song’s subject for her genetic meanness. There is betrayal and disappointment everywhere on Doc where even the finest pearls are really just cardboard balls. And if you’re me and have built a website all about Don Van Vliet you’ll not be able to listen to Sue Egypt’s scolding of “all those people who ride on my bones” without a pang of self-awareness and awkward shame.
Two years before Beefheart’s final album and retirement from the music industry, it’s no surprise in retrospect if this is how he was genuinely feeling.
Of course, it’s marvellous stuff – commonly regarded as the finest moment from his final trio of albums. The band are exceptional – the immense shocking power when they roar in at the beginning of Sheriff Of Hong Kong is pulverising.
A tonic if you’re feeling miffed and an ally if you’re feeling misunderstood or mistreated; sometimes the best thing to do is to rage along with the indignant howling agony of Doc At The Radar Station and love every minute of it.
Photograph from the back of the LP and CD booklet.
- The Zany Rock Of Captain Beefheart by Robert Palmer, from 28th September 1980 New York Times.
- Doc at the Radar Station from 30th November 1980 Circus.
- Doc at the Radar Station by Carman, from January 1981 Down Beat.
- Doc at the Radar Station by Jon Matsumoto, from 16th June 1994 Los Angeles Times.
- The Captain Is King by Declan Lynch. Source and date unknown.
Small cutting from Rolling Stone referring to the recording of Doc At The Radar Station. Thanks to Bill Haines for sending this along.
- 1980 performance on Saturday Night Live featuring Ashtray Heart and Hot Head.
Purchase Doc At The Radar Station
- CD from amazon.co.uk
- Mp3 from amazon.co.uk
- Vinyl from amazon.co.uk
- CD from amazon.com
- Mp3 from amazon.com
- Vinyl from amazon.com
Doc At The Radar Station releases
View the Radar Station’s full information about the various editions of Doc At The Radar Station which have appeared over the years.
- Doc At The Radar Station on Wikipedia
- Doc At The Radar Station on Discogs
- Doc At The Radar Station on AllMusic
- Doc At The Radar Station article by Bill Bamberger at Perfect Sound Forever
- All Doc At The Radar Station-related items here at the Radar Station
Help us out
If anyone is able to complete or update any of the information above, then please do get in touch.
I grew up listening to Zappa/Beefheart, and I am 61. I bought this CD many years ago. Recently, on some long car drives, I put this CD on at high volume to wake up. It sounds newer than new to me. Almost out there, disturbing. It’s immediacy is potent. I wish I could read about the writing and meaning of the songs somewhere. Timeless.
The person depicted on the album cover for “Doc at the radar station” is my dad. He was close friends with Beefheart. Beefheart was my dads roommate at one point.. My dad was an air traffic controller which is the “radar station” At one point my dad had a bunch of his artwork, hand drawn on white sheets of paper.
I found your site when I was looking for the lyrics
I’m curious about this album.. I feel like theres more to understand about it.
Thanks Alexis. Not heard this before. Those bits of artwork would be worth quite a bit if you still had them!
That’s interesting – the only theory I’d heard was from Gary Lucas, who said the person on the left is an Asian female, and the man on the right a stand-in for Van Vliet himself, cut off from clear communications with the former.
Living through endless winters down a dirt road in eastern Ontario, the vicious freshness that is Doc at the Radar Station was like nothing we’d ever heard. In 1984 as gobsmacked teens we did musically shambolic versions of Sue Egypt and others, while producing our own goofy brand of first-take stoner garage rock. Mixed and released for the first time for 2021!
Thanks for the heads up. I’ll check it out!